Archbishop Coleridge’s homily at the conclusion of the abuse summit

The four-day Vatican abuse summit concluded today with a Mass at which the Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, preached. The text of his homily, reprinted below, was published on the website of the Catholic Church in Australia.

In the Gospel just proclaimed, one voice alone is heard, the voice of Jesus. Earlier we heard the voice of Paul and at the end of Mass we will hear the voice of Peter, but in the Gospel there is only the voice of Jesus. It is good that, after all our words, there are now only the words of Christ: Jesus alone remains, as on the mount of the Transfiguration (cf Lk 9:36).

He speaks to us of power, and he does so in this splendid Sala Regia which also speaks of power. Here are images of battles, of a religious massacre, of struggles between emperors and popes. This is a place where earthly and heavenly powers meet, touched at times by infernal powers as well. In this Sala Regia the word of God invites us to contemplate power, as we have done through these days together. Between meeting, Sala and Scripture therefore we have a fine harmony of voices.

Standing over the sleeping Saul, David appears a powerful figure, as Abishai sees only too well: “Today God has put the enemy into your hands. So let me nail him to the ground with the spear”. But David retorts: “Don’t kill him! Who has ever laid a hand on the Lord’s consecrated one and gone unpunished?” David chooses to use power not to destroy but to save the king, the Lord’s anointed.

The pastors of the Church, like David, have received a gift of power – power however to serve, to create; a power that is with and for but not over; a power, as St Paul says, “which the Lord gave for building you up, not for destroying you” (2 Cor 10:8). Power is dangerous, because it can destroy; and in these days we have pondered how in the Church, power can turn destructive when separated from service, when it is not a way of loving, when it becomes power over.

A host of the Lord’s consecrated ones have been placed in our hands – and by the Lord himself. Yet we can use this power not to create but to destroy, and even in the end to kill. In sexual abuse, the powerful lay hands on the Lord’s consecrated ones, even the weakest and most vulnerable of them. They say yes to the urging of Abishai; and they seize the spear.

In abuse and its concealment, the powerful show themselves not men of heaven but men of earth, in the words of St Paul we have heard. In the Gospel, the Lord commands: “Love your enemies”. But who is the enemy? Surely not those who have challenged the Church to see abuse and its concealment for what they really are, above all the victims and survivors who have led us to the painful truth by telling their stories with such courage. At times, however, we have seen victims and survivors as the enemy, but we have not loved them, we have not blessed them. In that sense, we have been our own worst enemy.

The Lord urges us to “be merciful as your Father is merciful”. Yet, for all that we desire a truly safe Church and for all that we have done to ensure it, we have not always chosen the mercy of the man of heaven. We have, at times, preferred instead the indifference of the man of earth and the desire to protect the Church’s reputation and even our own. We have shown too little mercy, and therefore we will receive the same, because the measure we give will be the measure we receive in return. We will not go unpunished, as David says, and we have already known punishment.

The man of earth must die so that the man of heaven can be born; the old Adam must give way to the new Adam. This will require a true conversion, without which we will remain on the level of “mere administration” – as the Holy Father writes in Evangelii Gaudium – “mere administration” which leaves untouched the heart of the abuse crisis (25).

This conversion alone will enable us to see that the wounds of those who have been abused are our wounds, that their fate is our fate, that they are not our enemies but bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh (cf Gen 2:23). They are us, and we are them.

This conversion is in fact a Copernican revolution. Copernicus proved that the sun does not revolve around the earth but the earth around the sun. For us, the Copernican revolution is the discovery that those who have been abused do not revolve around the Church but the Church around them. In discovering this, we can begin to see with their eyes and to hear with their ears; and once we do that, the world and the Church begin to look very different. This is the necessary conversion, the true revolution and the great grace which can open for the Church a new season of mission.

Lord, when did we see you abused and did not come to help you? But he will reply: In truth I say to you, as often as you failed to do this to one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, you failed to do it to me (cf Matt 25:44-45). In them, the least of the brothers and sisters, victims and survivors, we encounter Christ crucified, the powerless one from whom there flows the power of the Almighty, the powerless one around whom the Church revolves forever, the powerless one whose scars shine like the sun.

In these days we have been on Calvary – even in the Vatican and in the Sala Regia we are on the dark mountain. In listening to survivors, we have heard Christ crying out in the darkness (cf Mk 15:34). And the cry has even become music. But here hope is born from his wounded heart, and hope becomes prayer, as the universal Church gathers around us in this upper room: may the darkness of Calvary lead the Church throughout the world to the light of Easter, to the Lamb who is the sun that never sets (cf Apoc 21:23).

In the end, there remains only the voice of the Risen Lord, urging us not to stand gazing at the empty tomb, wondering in our perplexity what to do next. Nor can we stay in the upper room where he says, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). He breathes on us (cf Jn 20:22) and the fire of a new Pentecost touches us (cf Acts 2:2). He who is peace throws open the doors of the upper room and the doors of our heart. From fear is born an apostolic boldness, from deep discouragement the joy of the Gospel.

A mission stretches before us – a mission demanding not just words but real concrete action. We will do all we can to bring justice and healing to survivors of abuse; we will listen to them, believe them and walk with them; we will ensure that those who have abused are never again able to offend; we will call to account those who have concealed abuse; we will strengthen the processes of recruitment and formation of Church leaders; we will educate all our people in what safeguarding requires; we will do all in our power to make sure that the horrors of the past are not repeated and that the Church is a safe place for all, a loving mother especially for the young and the vulnerable; we will not act alone but will work with all concerned for the good of the young and the vulnerable; we will continue to deepen our own understanding of abuse and its effects, of why it has happened in the Church and what must be done to eradicate it. All of this will take time, but we do not have forever and we dare not fail.

If we can do this and more, we will not only know the peace of the Risen Lord but we will become his peace in a mission to the ends of the earth. Yet we will become the peace only if we become the sacrifice. To this we say yes with one voice as at the altar we plunge our failures and betrayals, all our faith, our hope, our love into the one sacrifice of Jesus, Victim and Victor, who “will wipe away the tears from every eye, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or weeping or pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Apoc 21:4).

Amen.

13 comments

  1. I wonder how (what seems to me) the tortuous nature of the homily will speak to victims of abuse?
    It suggests to me that the ‘authorities’ in the church are still struggling with what they and their predecessors have allowed. On a first reading it seemed too self-referential.
    I welcome the summit, but it looks like there is a long way to go.

    1. Martin, you are right. They are at sea and struggling. Self-referential is a good description. We are not having a Copernican revolution that puts the abused at the center of the church. Christ is at the center of the church. I really wonder whether the bishops have figured out what this crisis means theologically because they are so traumatized by having their authority challenged.

      To bring up the business about whether the abused are our enemies and we didn’t love them, then to pivot to the idea that we (the bishops) are our own enemies was a tortured bit of logic. It seems to lead to the conclusion that love of enemies means that the bishops must love themselves. An absurd takeaway from this gospel, especially given the circumstances.

  2. I read Cardinal Cupich’s address to the synod: https://www.pbc2019.org/fileadmin/user_upload/presentations/22feb/22_Feb_2_Cardinal_Cupich_PBC_ING-.pdf
    This was the section on “Reporting Allegations”:

    All mechanisms for reporting allegations of abuse or mishandling of abuse cases against a bishop should be transparent and well known to the faithful. Attention should be given to establishing independent reporting mechanisms in the form of a dedicated telephone line and/or web portal service to receiveand transmit the allegations directly to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Metropolitan of the accused bishop, or as needed his alter and any lay experts provided for in norms established by the episcopal conferences. The involvement of lay experts to assist from this point forward is for the good of the process and the value of transparency. Other requirements and procedures for reporting to appropriate ecclesiastical authorities by members of the clergy with knowledge of a bishop’s misconduct should also be established.

    What struck me was that there was absolutely no mention of the necessity to involve the police and civil authorities from the outset. We are talking about criminal offences here, not just canonical ones. It all seemed to be inward-looking. I found myself asking “Do they really get it yet?”

    1. “Do they really get it yet?”
      I don’t think that card was in this deck of cards.
      Really getting it is not something that appears to have been important in composing most ternae for, well, a long time, if ever.
      Pope Francis long ago forewent a foundational opportunity to change how bishops are selected. That I believe is quite connected to the configuration of this deck of cards. By omission.

    2. Two things: firstly, at least in the U.S., the norm is for dioceses to involve civil law enforcement from the very beginning, and our bishops promote this regularly (they’re usually the first people a review board calls when they receive an allegation). A diocese isn’t even supposed to begin an investigation until law enforcement finishes theirs, which happens more often than not since evidence rules and statutes of limitations render the overwhelming majority of accusations unprosecutable, and therefore unworthy of the police’s limited resources.

      Secondly, all of this works well in the First World where civil laws are fair and consistently applied, but it’s a lot trickier in some countries where being a priest or even owning a bible can land you a hefty prison sentence, or worse. Universal Church laws have to work not only in the U.S. and Australia but also in places like Saudi Arabia and China.

      1. I really dislike that second paragraph. It appears to be putting the well-being of the clergy ahead of the well-being of victims.

      2. The ordinary (or aux) is advised almost immediately and this is how the report generally goes…the ordinary’s reply to the call….

        I find this report very difficult to believe, Father has been an outstanding priest, hard-working pastor and a loyal son of the church. Please investigate and advise of your findings….

        or

        Father has been in many assignments and has been difficult from the beginning, a problemed priest who has been very difficult to get along with. Please investigate and advise of your findings….

        How do you think the findings will come down?

        Bishops have extraordinary latitude, but very few investigations are on the up and up but are colored through comment and tone. Someone deemed difficult stands little chance of living through the process.

      3. Roger, bishops here have almost no involvement in those investigations, they are handled entirely by a lay-led diocesan review board (a friend of mine actually sits on such board for my diocese). All a bishop can do is act upon the review board’s recommendation, and in practice, they virtually always do (no one wants to give NYT an article ready to print these days). In fact, most times it’s the review board that informs the bishop about an allegation and not the other way around.

    3. In support of Patrick’s point, the questions of civil justice and law enforcement are extremely variable around the world. One bishop, in a Muslim country, said if he reported certain crimes they would put the priest to death. Is that the outcome we want? We all have read about places in the world where police corruption is rife and notorious and social norms blame the victim — you’d be landing the victim and the victim’s family in a position of being blackmailed. Is this an outcome we want? This does not excuse anybody in the United States from the demands of reporting as required by law. But I do see the necessity of the church following its moral code in every land, with or without help of the police, and I respect the fact that there are widely varying circumstances in which civil authority can help — or hinder — justice.

      1. View from the pew
        Regarding: ‘One bishop, in a Muslim country, said if he reported certain crimes they would put the priest to death. ”
        – These situations support the notion that part of the universal response to the rape of children and molestation of young people is to be found in the local arena.
        – Bishops in these regions however need to impress on clergy and other ministers that there are mortal consequences for breaking the civil laws, and that the victims of any crime have as much right to report the offender to the civil authorities. As well, a bishop will have to be chary in these regions of acting as one who aides and abets which could also be a violation of law in those parts.
        – Even so, whether the offense is criminal per civil law, or per canon law, bishops need to be clear to the one(s) harmed, and to the laity, that a cleric or minister is removed from ministry permanently and that the Holy See is informed.
        – No doubt, because the Protection of Minors in the Church meeting did not provide universally required ‘bottled remedies’, there is room for local churches to recommend how they will proceed with the laity and with transparency within the confines of particularly burdensome secular laws and cultural requirements.

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